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Distracted Driving: How the Brain Deals with Driver Distractions

In order to understand the dangers of distracted driving, you have to understand the effects distractions have on a driver’s brain. Many motorists believe they are immune to the distractions in front of them or that being aware of the distraction (and remembering to glance up at the road on occasion) somehow mitigates potential hazards – they are mistaken.

The Myth of Multitasking and the Truth of “Attention Switching”

If you think you are capable of texting and driving at the same time because you are a good “multitasker,” here is the truth:

  1. People do not actually multitask
  2. When completing two tasks, people do not accomplish both tasks with optimal focus and effectiveness

When someone is “multitasking”, their brain is actually processing the two tasks sequentially, not simultaneously. This means the brain is switching between one task and another, juggling the tasks very rapidly. This is commonly referred to as “attention switching.”

In addition to “attention switching,” the brain also engages in a constant process to deal with all the information it is receiving at any given moment. This includes:

  1. Selecting what information the brain will attend to
  2. Processing the information received
  3. Encoding the information into memory
  4. Storing that information as a memory

Once that process is completed, the brain then must

  1. Retrieve the newly stored information
  2. Execute or act on that newly retrieved information

This means that when the brain is focused on more than one task, it is not simply switching between the tasks, but also focus, attention, and the information that correlates with that task. This can cause the brain to skip essential steps of the information reception process, resulting in “inattention blindness.” Inattention blindness means your eyes physically see brake lights as you glance up from your phone, but your brain does not recognize and register the brake lights. The result: You just rear-ended a car.

Distractions Impair Reaction Times and Performance

Brain researchers studying how the brain handles more than one task have identified “reaction-time switching costs.” This is a measurable time during which the brain is switching its attention and focus from one task to another.

While the initial cost of switching may only be a few tenths of a second per switch, the costs can quickly add up as you repeatedly switch between tasks (i.e. glance up from you phone to the road and back to your phone. Combine this with a need for quick reaction, and you have a recipe for disaster.

For example, a vehicle traveling 40 mph typically takes about 120 feet (or about eight car lengths) to stop. Even a fraction-of-a-second delay would make the car travel several additional car lengths. In a scenario where a driver needs to react immediately, this could mean the difference between a near collision and a serious crash.

Contact an Experienced Distracted Driving Attorney

If you or a loved one have been injured in an auto accident due to the actions of a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation. Our experienced auto accident lawyers are available 24/7, nights and weekends to evaluate your claim. Our firm has offices in Corpus ChristiSan Antonio, Austin, and Houston, serving clients across Texas and nationwide. We can meet you wherever you reside, whether it be at home, at your workplace, or in the hospital. Contact us today for a free case review.

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